Resident Evil: Apocalypse


Reviewed by: Keith Hennessey Brown

Resident Evil: Apocalypse
"Full of shocks, but disappointingly light on horror."

In the original Resident Evil, the computer controlling the Umbrella Corporation's Hive research lab under Raccoon City went HAL 9000 and unleashed an experimental biological warfare agent that turned human technicians and other carbon-based types into flesh eating zombies.

An elite team was sent in to contain the outbreak and managed to prevent the infection from reaching Raccoon City and the world beyond. Just. There were two survivors who were then unceremoniously grabbed by the Corporation's agents and sent off to different research units, with mention of something called the Nemesis programme...

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All this is neatly compressed into five minutes, as one of the pair, ex-security officer Alice (Mila Jovovich), wakes up in the Raccoon City hospital. It couldn't have happened at a better/worse time as, thanks to an ill-judged attempt to re-enter the Hive, a horde of rampaging and infectious zombies has just been discharged onto the city streets.

The Umbrella men quickly move to evacuate all the important people (with the exception of the daughter of a prominent scientist - can you guess where that subplot is going?) and encircle the city. Then, with the infection having reached the outer perimiter, Corporate Nazi Cain (Thomas Kretschmann - last seem as the decent Nazi in The Pianist) has his men lock the gates to leave the remaining population - as represented by a couple of cops (Sienna Guillory and Razaaq Adoti), a scoop-seeking reporter (Sandrine Holt), a trio of Russian mercenaries and a streetwise black dude (black = streetwise in Hollywood shorthand) to die one way or another. If the zombies don't get them, his pet bio-weapon the Nemesis will. If it doesn't, well he can always nuke the site from orbit and claim there was a nuclear accident.

Needless to say both Alice and the more normal survivors have other ideas...

Resident Evil: Apocalypse is an utterly unnecessary sequel to a film based on a computer game inspired by zombie films by the likes of George A Romero - for a time rumoured to be helming the (un-)original until British schlock merchant Paul W S Anderson (the W S is there lest anyone mistake him for Magnolia man [director]Paul Thomas Anderson[/director], or porn helmer Paul Anderson) was shipped in.

Though Anderson is only responsible for the script this time, handing over directorial duties to AD and DP Alexander Witt (whose CV includes Pirates Of The Carribean and Black Hawk Down, so one doesn't want to dismiss him out of hand), his stamp of inauthenticity is all over the material: The game this was based on referenced the Nemesis, but the filmmakers nixed that name when Star Trek: Nemesis didn't exactly set the box office alight. Still, with Dawn Of The Dead doing surprisingly well at the moment, the time was obviously felt to be right for another slab of zombie mayhem...

The thing is Anderson and Witt cannot decide what to focus on. Is the goal to make another Dawn Of The Dead or 28 Days Later that concentrates on comparatively ordinary people wondering what the hell is going on and trying to survive? Or is it to reproduce an X-Men or Matrix superhero fantasy? In Anderson's more-is-more universe, the result is an awkward combination of both, resulting in an initially fragmentary narrative that doesn't give fans of Jovovich, or zombie table manners, enough of what they've come to see.

Thus, Guillory gets to play her no-nonsense cop, with moves straight from the Ellen Ripley playbook and lines out of the Quotable Schwarzenegger, but is never allowed to compete with Ms J in the teenage boy kick-ass fantasy babe stakes - "I'm good, but I'm not that good," she admits, after another piece of monster dispatching.

The broader tension, it appears, is the as yet unresolved one between film and game; a tension that is likely to become more and more apparent as the two industries converge and the latter increasingly models itself on the former - big budget projects; sequels and remakes; a self-serving combination of censorship and exploitation; a fundamental unwillingness to take risks. Everything, in fact, that renders Resident Evil: Apocalypse so throwaway.

One issue is that films are pre-determined with viewers fundamentally passive, whereas games are freeform, with players active participants. Another is that of verisimilitude/realism versus fantasy: Is the preference for Lara Croft as digital bits, with physics and breasts tweaked in the name of playability and spectacle, or as the manipulable, but far more resistant, corporeal form of Angelina Jolie? What do the notions of "you've played the game now see the film" or "you've seen the film now play the game" really mean in such circumstances? They are still fundamentally different media; something the filmmakers have failed to grasp.

The dilemmas are encapsulated by one should-be-awesome but instead aw(e)ful moment here: The cops and reporter are trapped in a church, out of ammo and with three slavering monsters closing in. Suddenly Alice crashes through the stained glass window and runs down the first monster. Thing is the superhuman figure, who elsewhere appears all but invulnerable, has her features concealed by a protective helmet - you can almost hear the negotiations with Jovovich's agents, the classification boards and the scratch of pens rewriting the scene again and again, trying to find the right compromise.

But it's not just here. Resident Evil: Apocalypse is full of shocks, but disappointingly light on horror. It's all about sudden noises and edits and frantic camerawork with a reluctance to get down and dirty and show exploding heads, or flesh eating orgies. Sanitised and safe, one half expects the bodies to disappear when shot.

A predictable when-is-it-going-to-end style finale sets things up for Resident Evil 3. The Umbrella Corporation, it would seem, is omnipotent, its largely faceless agents (to personalise and humanise them would raise awkward questions that don't have a place here) more like Star Wars stormtroopers in their unthinking devotion to a cause that gives them an average life expectancy of seconds.

Well, not unless you let them be: Vote with your pocket and go seek out a real no-nonsense-honest-to- goodness-scare-and-disturb horror film like Switchblade Romance instead...

Reviewed on: 08 Oct 2004
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Return of Mila Jovovich and the city of slavering zombies.
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Director: Alexander Witt

Writer: Paul WS Anderson

Starring: Mila Jovovich, Sienna Guillory, Oded Fehr, Thomas Kretschmann, Sophie Vavasseur, Razaaq Adoti, Jared Harris, Mike Epps, Sandrine Holt, Iain Glen

Year: 2004

Runtime: 94 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Germany/France/UK


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